June 2010

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Shifting Ground and Spiritual Change in Sumatra

by Keith Carey

Since ancient times the island of Sumatra has often been called the “Land of Gold.” Sumatra is rich in natural resources and renowned for its beauty and an amazing diversity of lush rainforests, exotic animal life and flora, crater lakes, cascading rivers, volcanic peaks, sandy beaches, and coastal wetlands. Much of the land is untamed jungle, swamp, and volcanic mountains resulting in a host of transportation and communication challenges.
The island is located in the so-called Ring of Fire, which means that it was formed as part of an active chain of volcanic islands that extend around the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean. Earthquakes, landslides and even tsunamis occur within the Ring of Fire and have affected life on Sumatra.

An Overview of Life on Sumatra Island
The peoples of Sumatra are as diverse as the landscape, with a variety of lifestyles and living conditions. They range from modern urban international business people to rural farmers who, for hundreds of years, have been living the same lifestyle as their ancestors. Most Sumatran peoples are farmers that live in small villages. Many villagers are involved in the production of food crops such as rice, corn, cassava and soybeans. They also produce commercial crops—palm oil, coconut, rubber, cloves, tea, and coffee. Fishery, cement production, pulp and paper, and petroleum are other large industries.
Sumatrans are among the warmest and friendliest people in Indonesia and take pride in their unique cultures. They are easy-going, peaceful, and often confident and hard-working. Family, community relationships, and cultural traditions are a major influence on life in Sumatra. Many of their celebrations are characterized by a combination of traditional and Islamic rituals.

Islamic Stronghold
In the 13th century, Islam gained a foothold in the northern tip of Sumatra. Then, over the next several centuries, the Muslim influence spread to the port cities and into the interior regions. The peoples of Sumatra have played a significant role in spreading Islam throughout the Southeast Asia, following the Islamic trading network built by Malay traders in the 15th century.
Sumatra continues to be one of the biggest Islamic strongholds in the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. When the people groups of Sumatra begin to turn to Christ, they could be instrumental in carrying Jesus throughout the rest of Indonesia and all of Southeast Asia.

What Are Their Beliefs Today?
The dominant feature of most Sumatrans is their strong allegiance to the religion of Islam. Islam is very deeply intertwined in each people group’s cultural identity and religious practices. However, while they do seek to fulfill the five pillars of Islam, animistic beliefs and practices are also still very much a part of their daily lives. Many of these local rituals have ancient roots, but contain Islamic elements. For example, a dukun (shaman/healer/occultist) might write verses from the Qur’an on paper, pour water over the verse, and have a sick or possessed person drink the water. They believe that this ritual will enable them to receive a special magical blessing from the powerful text. These cultural animistic, religious practices are intimately woven into the local practice of Islam and are usually viewed as “our kind of Islam” or “normal Islam” by each people group.
Sumatra is often called the most unreached island in the world. It is the home of 49 unreached people groups. These 49 groups include over 25 million people. It is estimated that there are only 5,000 followers of Christ! The unreached people groups of Sumatra stretch from the Acehnese people who live in the far north to the Lampungese people who live in the southern most part of the island. The most populous regions include most of northern Sumatra and the central highlands in west Sumatra. The major urban centers are Medan and Palembang.
Increased literacy and the mass media are slowly adding “orthodox” (radical Islamic) thinking to many “syncretistic” Muslim ways. At the same time, Christ’s followers are also using the global media, including the Internet, to spread the gospel.

What Are Their Needs?
Millions on Sumatra have not heard the good news of Christ due to the strong Muslim religious traditions and political, geographical and cultural barriers. And most of all, this vast multitude is lost because, almost without exception, they have never heard the gospel. Unless we act, they will never have even one chance to hear and respond to the good news of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for them.
The economic situation in Indonesia has deteriorated greatly and many people are desperate to provide for their families as they are pushed further below the poverty line. Many are without jobs and struggle to afford to send their children to school or provide adequate food for their family. Most cannot afford proper health care, and clean water is not often available. Many of you may remember the natural disasters that have shaken the people groups of Sumatra in recent years. There was an earthquake and tsunami in Aceh in 2004, and an earthquake and landslides in West Sumatra in 2009. Their greatest need is an alternative to their current religious system that denies them a personal relationship with God. They need to understand the gospel in their own language and in the context of their own culture.
God loves the peoples of Sumatra. He has watched their families and cultures develop. He knows every happy child and every worried parent. He knows every unemployed young man and every widow. He knows the man in the big city government office and the woman in the rice field. He loves every honest farmer and every crooked banker. God commands His people to show and tell His love to all people groups. He longs to be reconciled with the peoples of Sumatra. “O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.” Psalms 28:9.

Our Vision:
To see God glorified through church planting movements saturating each of the 49 unreached people groups of Sumatra.
To see that every household across Sumatra will be within walking distance of a reproducing fellowship of obedient Christ-followers, who are transforming their societies and beyond.

Our Goals for 2010-11:
To mobilize and equip Indonesian believers, teaching them the full set of church planting movement principles.
To send teams of intercessors and gospel-sharers to the island in order to inundate the people with unprecedented prayer and gospel-sharing.
To see churches, prayer groups and individuals from around the world participate in coordinating prayer initiatives, focused on the specific people groups of Sumatra. They would follow a schedule that parallels on-site prayer-walking by local Indonesian prayer teams. By using the GPD this month, you are part of this initiative.
Much prayer would be followed by local Indonesian church planters from other nearby ethnic groups going into the same areas.

How Can I Pray?
Pray that the Lord will prepare the hearts of the unreached Sumatran people groups to receive God’s Word.
Pray that more Indonesian believers and churches will catch a vision of sharing the gospel with the unreached peoples of Sumatra.
Pray that existing Christian workers will have wisdom, sensitivity, and boldness as they seek to share the gospel in a culturally appropriate manner.
Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to the unreached peoples of Sumatra through dreams and visions so that those who are seeking after the truth will be ready to receive Jesus when gospel workers share with them.
Pray that entire households will come to Christ, and that they will be guided by the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.
Pray that new Christians will be obedient to the Word of God, and persevere in the face of persecution.
Pray that they will be an example for us all as they share Jesus boldly and transform their communities.
Pray that God will establish a Christ-centered movement among each of the unreached people groups of Sumatra.

How Can I Continue to Help After This Month is Over?
Pray regularly and faithfully for the unreached people groups of Sumatra.
Pray specifically for a particular unreached people group of Sumatra.
Become involved and support a prayer walk or long-term ministry among an unreached people group of Sumatra.
Sign up to receive regular prayer points and updates by email and commit to pray on a daily basis. Send your name and email address to sumatra@sr21.com to begin to receive short weekly updates.
Fast together with field workers on behalf of the unreached people groups of Sumatra each Thursday in 2010.


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD

Dear Praying Friends,

There are approximately 72,000 mission minded believers who use this prayer guide each month. The GPD encourages us to pray daily for individual, specific unreached people groups that need missionaries to evangelize them. Now, for the first time, we are asking you to pray for Sumatra, the world’s fifth largest island where, as you pray through these articles, a major evangelical outreach is occurring among the unreached people groups. Christ’s followers, both adults and students in Indonesia, are being mobilized to reach out to the unevangelized people groups in their midst (for security reasons we cannot give many details).

We know that God has used our prayers to reach the unreached people of the world. We are now asking Him to use our prayers to bring spiritual receptivity to people groups who are currently being evangelized. What might God do if we are all praying together at the same time that a mighty outreach is going on? We may enjoy seeing our wonderful God answer our prayers immediately. We might see the Muslims of the Indonesian island of Sumatra come to Him this very month. Don’t neglect to pray each day! Wait in anticipation to see God’s merciful hand at work.


In Christ,
Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD